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Who is Kim Jong Un's mysterious sister?

During Kim Kong Un's absence, speculation about Kim Yo Jong assuming a leadership role in North Korea was rampant. But who is she? Analyst Michael Madden talks to DW about the North Korean ruler's mysterious sister.

Not much is known about Kim Yo Jong (main picture, left). Among the few things revealed is that she is the daughter of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the sister of current leader Kim Jong Un.

She has been seen alongside her brother and has an official role within the ruling communist party. But in recent weeks, rumors spread that during her brother's unexplained five-week absence she may have been leading the government of the secretive country.

According to the North Korea Intellectuals' Solidarity (NKIS), a think-tank run by defectors, Kim Yo Jong was charged with handling important government decisions while her brother was getting medical treatment at Bonghwa Clinic from both domestic and foreign medical teams.

In a DW interview, North Korea analyst Michael Madden says that as one of her brother's close aides, Kim Yo Jong most likely undertook additional administrative tasks but points out that her brother was never in any condition where he had to temporarily pass on power for longer than a few hours time.

However, he adds, in a system like North Korea's, gatekeepers wield an enormous amount of power particularly when the leader is ailing.

DW: Who is Kim Yo Jong?

Kim Yo Jong is the youngest of Kim Jong Il's seven children and Kim Jong Un's younger sister. Her mother Ko Yong Hui (1952-2004) was a member of the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe and was a common law wife of Kim Jong Il's.

Kim Jong Un mit Stock 14.10.2014

Madden: 'Kim Jong Un was never in any condition where he had to temporarily pass on power for longer than a few hours time'

Where did she study?

Kim Yo Jong received private tutoring at home and along with Kim Jong Un attended two schools near Berne, Switzerland, during the 1990s and early 2000s. She later attended university in North Korea and took courses in Western Europe shortly thereafter.

What is her status within the Kim family?

She's the younger sister of the supreme leader and one of his closest confidantes which gives her a fairly high status in the Kim family. Given the patriarchal nature of current North Korea's political culture she is not likely a candidate for succession.

What role does she play in the Communist Party and the country?

Kim Yo Jong has the title of deputy department director of the Workers' Party of Korea's Central Committee which is a very powerful job in the political system.

Her primary job involves managing her brother's schedule, making his security and logistical arrangements for his on-site visits and travel around the country.

She also has a more substantive policy oriented responsibilities. Given the personal access she has to Kim Jong Un and the country's core leadership, she is quite powerful.

How is she able to assert herself as a woman in a very male-dominated society?

Both her status as a member of the Kim family and the fact that she is politically active indicate that this is not the kind of dynamic at work here. She is a member of the royal family and she will be regarded with the proper deference that entails in any society.

She can conduct inspections and issue orders on certain things, but that does not mean she'll necessarily rise to the position of Suryo'ng (supreme leader).

How likely is the fact that she could have been left in charge during her brother's absence?

I don't think that Kim Yo Jong was left completely in charge whilst Kim Jong Un recuperated. Kim Jong Un was never in any condition where he had to temporarily pass on power for longer than a few hours time.

Nordkorea Chang Sung-taek Portrait

Jang Song Taek was among those who ensured the continuity of power when Kim Jong Il was recuperating from a stroke during in 2008, says Madden

So what role do you think she played during her brother's absence?

As one of her brother's close aides, she undertook additional administrative tasks - receiving reports, briefing her brother, forwarding his instructions, summoning senior officials.

This also happened when the late leader Kim Jong Il was recuperating from a stroke during the summer and autumn of 2008 with several people close to him ensuring the continuity of power - including his sister Kim Kyong Hui, his late brother-in-law Jang Song Taek and Kim Jong Il's technical secretary and widow Kim Ok. In a system like North Korea's, gatekeepers wield an enormous amount of power particularly when the leader is ailing.

Michael Madden is a specialist on North Korea and the sole author and editor of the website NK Leadership Watch. He is also contributor to "38 North" website, operated by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.